22 Dec 2010

Inapt Analogy

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Here’s Tom Woods relaying a nullification anecdote:

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute recently held a very interesting debate at the University of Virginia on state nullification, between Allen Guelzo of Eastern University and Donald Livingston of Emory University.  You can watch it or listen to it.  Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see the question period, when things got very interesting.  A person in attendance wrote to tell me what happened:

Eventually a female student raised a question: the American colonists said they were defending the rights of Englishmen against usurpations of Parliament. She asked couldn’t it happen that the central government could become oppressive in the same way and that the States could step forth as the colonial governments had done to check the tyranny? Guelzo paused for a long time and asked whether she thought the central government was a tyranny. She rephrased the question. He persisted twice, and demanded that she answer. She did, and said she thought it was a tyranny. The audience clapped! After which a long silence. Guelzo said, after some other words, that she was a “traitor.” [Another person whose recollection was sent to me recalls that he said, before calling her a traitor, “There was a man not too long ago with a similar response and his name was Benedict Arnold.”] One of her teachers, the Dean of Honors Students, jumped up to protest, and was physically restrained. A gentleman in the audience said, “Professor, that was a cheap shot.” Others protested. The moderator, a professor of international law, had to call for order.

This was a confirming instance of my darkest thoughts about nationalist ideologues. Guelzo was a Lincolnian Jacobin who would have had no problem leading war against civilians, including the honors student at UVA.

My observation: It would have been more historically accurate if Guelzo had said, “There was a man not too long ago with a similar response and his name was Patrick Henry.”

If anybody is Benedict Arnold in this story–siding with the distant tyrant instead of the local rebels–it is Guelzo.

6 Responses to “Inapt Analogy”

  1. Justin Lee says:

    Maybe she could take that as a compliment. George Washington was a traitor to the British crown.

  2. Evan says:

    LOL… “No, of course the federal government isn’t a tyranny… and if you ever dare to think it is, we will brand you as a traitor!!!” Oh, the irony.

  3. Daniel Kuehn says:

    Eh – “traitor” is only as bad as whatever you’re being traitorous to.

    Benedict Arnold was a traitor. So was Patrick Henry. So was George Washington.

    I don’t see how this girl was a traitor, even by the professor’s definition – but I don’t see how the professor was a traitor either. Or put it this way – if the professor was a traitor, then the girl certainly was as well. If he wasn’t, then the girl wasn’t. Granted they would be considered traitorous to two different causes.

    Talk of treason, I think, is largely irrelevant unless we’re willing to make a value judgement on the treason itself. I like Washington and Henry’s treason. I don’t like Arnold’s treason. I really could care less about these two whether they’re treasonous or not. I don’t think either are treasonous. I think the professor is at worst a jerk and hyperbolic and I think the student is at worst credulous and hyperbolic (and potentially a jerk too… I’ve found that a lot of people who think hyperbolically like her have acted like jerks to people who don’t think that way).

    • Robert Greenwood says:

      Are you saying that you find credulous judgments of irrelevant treason to be hyperbolic hyperbole?

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        I’m saying I’m embarassed to admit I didn’t understand that, but somewhat confident it wasn’t meant to be understood 🙂

        The girl sounds quite credulous to me. She certainly sounds hyperbolic. I don’t think that amounts to treason any more than I think the professor being a jerk amounts to treason.

  4. Bob Roddis says:

    I like to engage in hyperbole with my Republican friends. I say stuff like, “Clinton (both of them), Dubya and Obama should be tried and executed for war crimes and treason. I’m generally against the death penalty, but sometimes you need to make an exception”. That generally gets them to stop defending Fox News or the death penalty and they mysteriously change the subject to important stuff like, “How big of a turkey do you need to feed 11 people?”

    Speaking of treason, John Jay Myers writes at antiwar.com:

    I think all government correspondence that does not involve missile codes or troop locations should be public, and any government correspondence that isn’t made public should be labeled as treason.

    We should just make all government wires transparent, starting now. Tell all federal employees, “Oh by the way, all of your correspondence is public. Any correspondence you engage in that is ‘government business’ not made public will be labeled as treason.” Freedom of information and government transparency make us safer by keeping government officials accountable to the American people and to the Constitution they swore to defend and uphold. WikiLeaks would be the full body scanner for the United States government.